CHELSEA manager Jose Mourinho suffered his first home defeat in 78 Premier League matches as the Blues’ title aspirations took a massive hit at the hands of Sunderland on Saturday.
The Black Cats arrived at the Bridge on the back of a stirring 2-2 midweek draw away at Manchester City, but no one seriously expected the bottom-placed club to put up similar resistance at Chelsea.
Mourinho was all smiles in the spring sunshine when Samuel Eto'o put Chelsea ahead on 12 minutes but his face darkened when Connor Wickham – Sunderland’s two-goal hero against Manchester City – equalised for the visitors just six minutes later.
The scores remained level until 82 minutes when referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a penalty after Cesar Azpilicueta was adjudged to have fouled Jozy Altidore. Fabio Borini slotted the spot kick amid chaotic scenes on the sidelines with Mourinho having to restrain assistant coach Rui Faria from confronting Dean.
Marginal though the penalty decision may have been, the truth is Chelsea’s lack of killer instinct in front of goal was again there for all to see as they squandered several first-half opportunities to retake their lead.
A few weeks ago Mourinho was caught questioning his strikers’ ability but in the post-match conference he had only one target in sight. Having congratulated Sunderland on their victory, Mourinho took a saracastic pot shot at the referee: “I want to congratulate again,” he said. “This time Mike Dean. His performance was unbelievable and when referees have unbelievable performances it's fair to congratulate them. He came here with one objective, the objective to make a fantastic performance and he did that.”
The defeat all but ends Chelsea’s title aspirations with the Blues still two points behind Liverpool (who play Norwich away later today) but having played a game more. With Manchester City in third, four points behind Chelsea, but with two games up their sleeve, both they and the Reds would have to suffer a disastrous dip in the form over the next three weeks for Mourinho’s men to be crowned champions.
As for Sunderland, they have suddenly given themselves a real chance of avoiding relegation thanks to two extraordinary results in the space of five days. Still bottom of the table, but just one point behind Fulham and Cardiff, and three shy of Norwich, the Black Cats could yet avoid the trapdoor to the Championship if they continue their rich vein of form.
“We have matches at home against teams at the bottom [Cardiff, West Bromich Albion and Swansea] so we have a chance,” admitted manager Gus Poyet. “I'm a believer, I am committed and I know what we can do. All we can do is keep going."
Sunderland’s next opponents are Cardiff, who drew 1-1 at home to Stoke City, while fellow relegation candidates Fulham were beaten 3-1 away at Tottenham. The win leaves Spurs in sixth, four points behind Arsenal in fourth, with the Gunners’ game in hand coming later today away at Hull.
In other matches, Aston Villa drew 0-0 with Southampton at Villa Park, Crystal Palace won 1-0 at West Ham, and Newcastle slumped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea. Wilfried Bony scored the Swans' winner with a stoppage time penalty, a result that lifts them six points clear of relegation trouble and almost certainly secures their Premier League future for another season. ·